Marketing and public relations (PR) are at the core of how companies build and maintain their client base. Professionals in marketing and PR design and implement marketing and public relations campaigns, and incorporate the latest insights and technological developments in marketing and customer experience management into these campaigns. They also assess consumers’ responses to their companies’ outreach efforts, and advise other departments within their company regarding product and service positioning. While there are distinct master’s degree programs in marketing and public relations, numerous colleges and universities now offer master’s in communication programs that feature coursework in marketing, marketing communication, and/or media and public relations. Many of these programs are offered through schools or departments of communication, as opposed to schools of business and management.

The majority of master’s in marketing communication and public relations programs are industry-focused, with courses that give students the knowledge and skills to advance their careers in marketing or public relations. While these programs may include courses that cover human communication theories and research methods, these concepts are generally applied to marketing and/or public relations initiatives.

Master’s in communication programs with a specialization in marketing and/or PR train students to create and execute on a wide variety of marketing and public relations initiatives. These programs include courses in public relations writing, client experience assessment and management, marketing content production and analytics, consumer research, advertising campaigns, and other strategies for building a company’s brand and fostering a connection between companies and their consumers. groups these two related programs together as it is not uncommon for master’s in communication programs to offer specializations that focus on both PR and marketing; however, there are programs that offer distinct specializations that focus on one more than the other.

Marketing Communication vs Public Relations

Marketing and public relations are distinct from each other, in that marketing is typically defined as advertising and other types of content that promote a company’s products or services. Public relations is concerned with a company’s relationship with the public, its target consumers, and other stakeholders such as partner corporations; it also concerns a company’s maintenance of a positive reputation and brand identity. While distinct, marketing and PR overlap with and rely on each other in organizations of all sizes and in all industries. Ethical and effective marketing practices are an important component of a sound public relations strategy, and a positive company image borne from savvy PR practices provides a good foundation for a successful marketing strategy.

Individuals who complete a master’s degree in marketing communication and/or PR can find work in a wide variety of for-profit and non-profit environments as marketing and/or public relations specialists, social and digital media managers, brand specialists, and directors of marketing. The knowledge and skills students develop during their program are also applicable to other roles that are not specifically in the fields of marketing and public relations, but which require a strong understanding of customer-facing communication, as well as consumer psychology.

The Advent of Integrated Marketing Communications

In recent years, there has been increased emphasis on understanding how different forms of communication–including public relations, traditional print-based marketing channels, digital marketing strategies and analytics, and social media–work together to shape a company’s relationship with its various stakeholders. This emphasis on a holistic approach to marketing that incorporates new technologies and different channels of communication, enabling a company and its various brands to communicate effectively with consumers, investors, and other parties, is known as Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC).

To accommodate this shift in many companies’ marketing strategies to incorporate this more holistic approach, numerous schools are offering master’s in communication programs with an IMC emphasis. These programs are similar to master’s in communication programs with a marketing, public relations, and/or strategic communication emphasis, and may even be seen as a graduate program that sits at the intersection of these three fields. Courses for master’s programs in IMC are often equivalent or similar to those of master’s programs in PR, marketing, and strategic communication.

Note: Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications programs are only included in the website’s databases if they incorporate clear communication courses (e.g crisis communication, brand communication, strategic communication, organizational communication, etc.) in their curriculum as core or elective courses. IMC programs that are more traditionally aligned with Master’s in Marketing programs are not included at this time.

Curriculum Details for Master’s in Marketing Communication Programs

Master’s in communication programs in public relations and marketing typically begin with a core set of classes that cover advanced concepts in strategic communication, such as persuasive writing, communication laws and ethics, and research in communication. After completing the core curriculum of their program, students focus on courses that train them specifically in PR and marketing strategy. These classes cover in detail the latest theories and methods for effective public relations and marketing across different channels, including website content, email marketing, press releases, social media, and more. While course titles and content may vary from program to program, in general, students complete classes such as:

  • The Theory and Practice of Public Relations: The organizational and communication principles that serve as the foundation of public relations for companies and organizations. How to manage the interests of different stakeholders within and outside of the company through tactful and relevant communication.
  • Integrated Marketing Practices and Principles: How to combine all types of marketing communication, including advertising, brand identity, public relations, social media, and sales to create an integrated experience for customers and clients. How to adjust a company’s integrated marketing strategy over time by coordinating with different departments to unify a company’s message and outreach efforts.
  • Digital and Data-Driven Marketing and Analytics: The latest developments in digital marketing and consumer data collection and analytics. How to gather and analyze data on consumers’ online search behavior, social media behavior, and customer experience and responses to marketing initiatives. Concepts such as search engine optimization, paid search, social media marketing, content marketing initiatives, public relations, and email marketing, and how to incorporate them into a marketing campaign.
  • Public Relations for For-Profit and Non-Profit Organizations: How to manage public relations for a variety of organizations in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors, including how to craft press releases, manage public outreach initiatives, and collaborate with company leaders to develop and convey a corporate identity. How for-profit and non-profit organizations differ in structure and mission, and how these differences impact their PR strategy.
  • Media, Technology, and Economics: The structure of media and marketing businesses and how they aggregate audiences and measure their response to different types of media and messaging. How the fields of media production and news are merging with commercial messaging, and how this merging impacts companies’ marketing strategies. How marketing and public relations professionals can hone their digital storytelling skills to match the needs and interests of their target audiences who are increasingly using laptops, tablets, and mobile phones to consume content and make purchasing decisions.
  • Designing Media and Marketing Campaigns: The components of an effective marketing campaign. How to tailor one’s media and marketing campaign according to the needs and interests of one’s target audience. Using multiple types of media to create effective messaging for targeted consumers and to maintain a positive brand presence.
  • Crisis Communication: The different types of crisis situations that individuals, communities, and organizations encounter, and how communication professionals can manage these crisis through clear, timely, ethical, and actionable communication. Different crisis scenarios are discussed, such as natural disasters, accidents, leadership issues, and product recalls, and how to create public-facing and internal communications that support the community, preserve a company’s reputation, and/or promote employee engagement or consumer satisfaction and trust.

Below is an example of a curriculum plan for a student pursuing a two-year course of study in a master’s in communication program with an emphasis in marketing and public relations. Please note that the plan below is an example only, and that programs can vary in terms of their course content, titling, and sequencing. In addition, many master’s in marketing communication programs provide students with a degree of flexibility in the order in which they complete their concentration classes. Typically, master’s in communication programs with a focus in Public Relations and/or Marketing Communication require the completion of between 30 and 60 course credits, which students can fulfill in between 12 and 24 months of full-time study, or 24 to 36 months of part-time study.

2-Year Sample Curriculum Plan for a Master’s in Communication with a Specialization in Marketing Communication and Public Relations

Fall Term
Spring Term
Summer Term
Year 1
Core Courses:
  • Leadership in Communication
  • Essential Theories of Communication

Core Courses:
  • Digital Media and Technology in Communication
  • Ethics in Communication
Core Course:
  • Principles of Strategic Communication
Concentration Course:
  • The Theory and Practice of Public Relations
Year 2
Concentration Courses:
  • Integrated Marketing Practices and Principles
  • Media, Technology, and Economics
Concentration Courses:
  • Designing Media and Marketing Campaigns
  • Digital and Data-Driven Marketing and Analytics
Concentration Courses:
  • Public Relations for For-Profit and Non-Profit Orgs
  • PR/Marketing Applied Capstone Project or Individual Work on Portfolio

Students should also note that, while some master’s in communication programs provide specific specializations in marketing and/or public relations, there are also programs that allow their students to specialize in a different area of communication while taking some electives in marketing or public relations. For example, the majority of Master’s in Strategic Communication programs include coursework in PR and marketing. In addition, Master’s in Mass Communication programs typically have some coursework or electives in marketing and/or public relations. Finally, for students who are mainly interested in public relations, some colleges and universities also offer dedicated Master’s in Public Relations programs.

Directory of Master’s in Marketing Communication Programs